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WesternU Oregon honors donor patients at annual memorial service

by Emily Campbell

May 3, 2024

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Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest (COMP-Northwest) and College of Health Sciences-Northwest (CHS-Northwest) students held their annual donor memorial service on April 26, 2024. During the memorial, students gathered with the families and friends of donor patients to recognize the service of those who have donated their bodies to medical education.    


WesternU students lit candles in honor of volunteer donors. (Luke Rauch, WesternU)

The memorial, organized by the Student Government Association (SGA), included two musical performances by firstyear COMP-Northwest students Stanley Feng (piano), Nicole Yuzon (violin) and Christian Olsen (viola), and Eliza Mendel (piano), wife of secondyear COMP-Northwest student Davis Mendel. Following the musical numbers, Olsen, as a member of the Military Medical Association, recognized and thanked the veteran donors who had served in the U.S. military. Samaritan Health Services Chaplain Wes Sedlacek provided a brief message to families and thanked the donors for their contributions to medicine. SGA students read the names of each volunteer donor, lighting a candle in their honor. After, students read stories about the donors that were previously submitted by families and friends while a slideshow presentation showed images from throughout their lives. The memorial concluded with a moment of silence.


“Students see pictures and hear stories about their donor’s life. It really is amazing and touching to see students learn about this person they have spent so much time with, and the families and friends meet the students and see who their loved one has been helping,” said COMP-Northwest Vice Chair and Assistant Professor of Medical Anatomical Sciences Edie Sperling, DPT. “We want to deeply thank and honor the people who gave their bodies to WesternU Oregon so that students can learn and become absolutely the best possible health care providers they can.”


COMP-Northwest student Elizabeth Eckenrod speaks at WesternU Oregon’s Donor Patient Memorial service. (Luke Rauch, WesternU)

Since the start of the school year in August, students have been working closely with their cadavers to gain hands-on experience on topics discussed in their lectures. First-year COMP-Northwest student Elizabeth Eckenrod explained how valuable the opportunity to work with these donors has been, saying she did not consider any medical schools that do not utilize cadaver education.


“We started with muscles. We learned all the muscles then we would go in and dissect all the muscles. We started with arms then went to legs. It was crazy, because you would hear about something in a lecture then go and actually see it, which is priceless,” Eckenrod said. As the year comes to a close this is a really great way for us to sit down and show respect to our donors because it’s so special to all of us and we’re so respectful of our donors. I think it’s really important for us to all come together and be able to thank them, have a space to do that, and thank their families.

Full-body donation allows WesternU students the opportunity to learn about the human body early in their medical careers. Donors provide students with a wealth of knowledge, becoming their first patients as health care professionals.


Dr. Edie Sperling talks about the important role donors play in teaching students anatomy, surgical skills, communication and resilience. (Luke Rauch, WesternU)

Without our donors, we would have no anatomy lab. Some schools are moving towards more online or virtual education, and while there’s a place for that, the anatomy lab combines visual, kinesthetic, and spatial learning in a way that virtual education cannot,” Dr. Sperling said. “Not only do our students learn anatomy, they learn surgical skills from using a scalpel, interpersonal skills from working in a team, professionalism, communication, and time management. They also grow as a person by facing the often intimidating and overwhelming anatomy lab and finding the strength and resilience to succeed there.


Those interested in learning more about the Body Donation Program (BDP) or how to become a donor can visit the body donation webpage.

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